How to Know You're Ready for Your First Dev Job

By Allison Seboldt | 3 min read

When I first started applying for developer roles, I did not feel ready. My knowledge of programming and understanding of the industry felt horribly incomplete. But tutorials weren’t teaching me anything anymore. I was stuck in limbo. So, without a clear picture of what I should do next, I took a stab at getting what I truly wanted: my first dev job.

I applied on some job boards thinking it was a shot in the dark. Lo and behold, I got some responses. In a couple of months I started getting interviews. And not long after that, my first job.

So often I see self taught developers ask “How do I know when I’m ready to start applying for jobs?”. Odds are, by the time you start asking that question, you’re ready. But you likely won’t feel ready. As a result, I’ve watched brilliant self taught devs and bootcamp grads continue to waste time at jobs they hate or give up on their dream altogether.

This question of “How do I know I’m ready?” is so prevalent, I want to give it an answer. This is NOT an end all be all measurement of someone’s skill. Rather, a guide to point people in the right direction when the path forward is unclear.

So, without further ado, below is a checklist for determining if you are ready to start applying for your first dev job:

Step One: You can come up with something, and make it all on your own.

This can be as simple as “a website” or as complicated as “my own blogging platform”. The key here is doing it all on your own, sans tutorial. To be clear, that does not mean avoiding Google. In the real world, you won’t be expected to know everything. This is an exercise in problem solving and learning how to figure things out on your own.

Step Two: You can put it on the internet (or app store, or wherever users would be expected to interact with it).

The end game of most technology is to create something others can use. You created a tip calculator? Great! But if I can’t access it in a restaurant, what good is it? Hiring managers want people they know can deliver. Additionally, the life of a developer is more than writing code. You will have to manage deployments, testing, chasing down bugs in production, and other skills you are unlikely to learn in a tutorial. Best to start practicing these now as they only get more complicated on the job.

Step Three: Rinse and repeat the above steps at least 2 more times. To expand your learning, each project should be significantly different than the last. I suggest starting small and working your way up to more complex projects. Say your first project was a website with HTML and CSS. Create another website for your second project, but write your CSS using SASS. Was your first project a blogging platform? Perhaps make your second project a discussion board.

At this point, you’ve created and delivered a minimum of three projects. You’ve learned the basics and practiced them in the real world. By owning projects from start to launch, you have knowledge of the project lifecycle. Your foundation is solid and your education is well rounded.

Now is the time to start applying.

You may think the more portfolio projects the better. But once you reach five, your learning will plateau. Still feel like you’re missing something? Honestly, that knowledge only comes from on the job experience. The only path to “leveling up” at this stage is practicing your skills in a real production environment.

Go forth and apply. You’ll likely be surprised by how much more you learn just by interviewing.

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